Mr. Ozone and the climate – a conversation with Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina | Global Ideas | DW | 27.07.2012
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Global Ideas

Mr. Ozone and the climate – a conversation with Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina

The Mexican-born Nobel laureate worked together with two colleagues on groundbreaking research into the breakdown of the ozone layer. So it’s no wonder that he’s also a climate activist. We sat down with Mario Molina.

Mario Molina (Photo: dpa)

Mexican chemist Mario Molina won the Nobel for discovering what's behind the breakdown of the ozone layer

In 1995, the Nobel committee in Stockholm awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Mexican-born Mario Molina and his colleagues, American scientist F. Sherwood Rowland and Dutch chemist Paul J. Crutzen. Molina played an instrumental role in discovering the threat that chlorofluorocarbon gases, or CFC’s, pose to the ozone layer. The team’s research led to the phasing out of CFCS in industrial production. Molina sat down with Global Ideas’ Manuela Kasper-Claridge at this year’s Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany.

Greenifying Mexico

The cool weather and gray skies over Lake Constance in Germany don’t seem to bother Mario Molina. The 69-year-old Nobel laureate is solely focused on his greatest passion: saving the climate. He serves as an advisor to the Mexican government, helping spur eco-friendly initiatives - like a low-carbon plan for Mexico City that aims to drastically reduce the capital city’s emissions.

Poor countries suffer most

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Watch the interview

“We are still far short of finding a solution to climate change,” said Molina, expressing frustration over slow pace of the battle. The Nobel laureate says the problem is in part due to scientists and researchers who play down the true threat of climate change. “They think it’s someone else’s job to deal with the media or to inform the public. But I think that’s a mistake,” said Molina. He says poor and developing countries that lack resources will be hit hardest by the consequences. Many of them, he says, will require extensive resettlement efforts to move people living in coastal communities out of harm’s way – especially as severe flooding becomes increasingly common.

A Poor Role Model

Molina, a professor at the University of California in San Diego, is highly critical of the United States and its role in climate change, warning that the country will suffer grave consequences - like massive wildfires. “These countries can put out the fires as they come, but it will be a lot more expensive than taking part in a real solution,” said Molina.”

For many, the threat of environmental disaster seems a distant reality. But Molina says that is far from the truth – especially because some consequences are already playing out on the global stage. The chemist is frustrated with the U.S. Republican party and its supporters, who largely dispute climate change. “This is the situation: In the U.S., lobbyists and interest groups launched a very clever and well-financed campaign to discredit climate research. And they were successful.”

Climate change is indisputable

Molina says there climate change doubters simply do not exist among scientific circles. There is a widespread consensus that global warming is real and present. The debate, he says, is over the speed and consequences of that change.

Despite his urgency, the Nobel prize winner remains optimistic. He believes economic growth can go hand-in-hand with protecting the climate, by championing “smart economic growth paired with the right incentives and technologies.”

Leading the way

Molina likes visiting Germany. In the 1960’s, he studied in the German city of Freiburg, and he speaks German as well. Today, says Molina, Germany serves as a crucial role model for the battle against climate change. “The country has taken measures that really do tackle the problem, like financing renewable energy ssources like wind or solar power. The results have been important, too: the costs for alternative energy sources have fallen quickly, making it a real alternative.”

China’s Green Wave

Molina hopes other countries follow Germany’s lead, pointing to China’s recent surge in green technology as a positive sign. Still, China remains the world’s biggest polluter, and the country has boosted its fossil fuel production. “In the end, it will cost them more to deal with the consequences of climate change in agriculture, like droughts and floods,” warned Molina.

Mr. Ozone

The interview comes to an end as Molina heads to his next appointment: a meeting with young, budding scientists from around the world who have come to speak with the Nobel laureate in person.

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